Melbourne Victory have won through to their second successive Westfield W-League Grand Final after ending the reign of champions Sydney FC with a stunning 3-2 semi-final win.
Jess Fishlock and Jessica Humble gave the Victory a handy first-half lead and although Sam Kerr and Leena Khamis pulled the Sky Blues level, a second-half penalty from Lauren Barnes proved to be the winner.
Victory will now meet fourth-placed Brisbane Roar in the decider after the Queensland outfit edged past premiers Canberra on Saturday.
Today's match at WIN Jubilee Oval in Sydney was a high-quality affair in keeping with traditional contests between the two teams.
A good tempo was maintained throughout on a rain-sodden pitch, and the leaden skies made for significant humidity and merely added to the challenge.
The two coaches made some intriguing line-up selections with Ellyse Perry on the bench for Sydney, and midfield ace Fishlock playing striker for the visitors.
The goalmouth action was immediate and Sydney goalkeeper Casey Dumont narrowly beat the onrushing Fishlock to the ball averting an early disaster.
At the other end Brianna Davey smothered Jodie Taylor’s point-blank effort at the back post shot as the English striker seemed certain to open the scoring after profiting from Kerr’s trademark leaping header.
Fishlock then pushed a slide-rule pass into the feet of the onrushing Lisa De Vanna who rounded Dumont, but hit the side-netting from a 45 degree angle.
Fishlock’s elevation to the forward line paid dividends midway through the opening half as the Wales captain got on the end of a short pass on the edge of the penalty area and finished low and hard with the aplomb of a veteran striker.
Little more than a minute later Taylor sprung the offside trap but struck the near post from an acute angle thanks, in part, to a fingernail from Davey.
The end-to-end action rarely abated and De Vanna sizzled a long-range effort narrowly over the crossbar as the Victory threatened once again to take a handy two-goal margin.
The crowd, however, were silenced nine minutes from the break with the unlikely figure of defender Humble doubling the advantage. Humble timed her first ever Westfield W-League goal to perfection, with a perfect far-post header from Barnes’ deep corner.
Sydney spurned an opportunity to pull a goal back a minute before the break but Davey made a superb block from Kerr who had been expertly put through on goal by Khamis.
But the Sky Blues found the net in injury time as Kerr nailed a header past Davey after getting on the end of Caitlin Foord’s searching long ball.
An incredible opening period of football ended with Taylor stabbing her shot wide with the last kick of the half.
Barely five minutes after the restart Khamis drew her side level with a superb volley after the Victory failed to deal with Teresa Polias’ cross.
Chances at either end continued throughout, notably via Emma Kete and Amy Harrison for Sydney, both of which required diving catches from Davey. While at the other end the long-range shooting of Fishlock was a constant threat.
Dumont perhaps produced the save of the match midway through the second half with the Sky Blues custodian at full stretch to deny Swede Jessica Samuelsson.
The pivotal moment of the match came midway through the second period and saw the referee award a penalty for handball against Foord which Barnes coolly converted.
Dumont continued her fine form with a sharp low block from De Vanna and repeated the feat more than once in the second period as the action remained end to end until the last minute of an epic encounter.
The grand final will be held at Melbourne’s Lakeside Stadium next Sunday at 3pm, with the match to be broadcast live on ABC1.
Sydney FC 2 (Sam Kerr 45+1’, Leena Khamis 52’)
Melbourne Victory 3 (Jess Fishlock 22’, Jessica Humble 36’, Lauren Barnes 71’ pen)